Friday, August 09, 2019

Milligan on digital history reviewed

This month's Literary Review of Canada has a long review (only available to subscribers) by librarian Lisa Betel of Ian Milligan's History in the Age of Abundance: How the Web is Transforming Historical ResearchI profiled Milligan and his work on digital history in Canada's History magazine in April and June of 2018, and it's good to see the full book now in print. 

Betel notes the sheer immensity of data that digital media make available for historical study, and the problems of managing such abundance:
Few if any schools are currently equipping future historians with teh technical skills to run database queries and understand the metadata, and Milligan advocates for a curriculum that includes such instruction.
She notes the ethical (notably privacy) issues -- though I'm not convinced they differ fundamentally from those faced any anyone who writes contemporary history. She also notes that the need for sampling and quantifying in coping with masses of data, noting Milligan's observation that "people are obscured... but still read into the historical record"  -- again, not an unknown problem in quantitative social history, but now perhaps reaching a new scale.  She, and maybe Milligan, comes out rather optimistic:
Milligan believes ... emerging technology will allow us to deal with large data sets, preserve the anonymity of individuals, and still incorporate their perspectives into the record."   
 Also in the current LRC, former Harper cabinet minister Chris Alexander reviews Roy McLaren's Mackenzie King in the Age of Dictators, taking some pleasure in the feet of clay of a Liberal prime minister blind to the perils of fascism. David Breault, reviewing Helaina Gaspard's Canada's Official Languages, notes how in the post-Confederation era, patronage allowed powerful francophone cabinet ministers to stock the senior civil service with fellow francophones, whereas the establishment of the non-partisan Civil Service Commission based its practice on English-Canadian norms, so francophone representation in the public service dropped dramatically.  And more, as they say.
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